Virus efforts jeopardise vaccines for millions of children in the Middle East, UN says

Some vaccination campaigns had been suspended as health workers were diverted to fighting the Covid-19 illness

Syrian refugee students take part in a washing hands activity during an awareness campaign about coronavirus initiated by OXFAM and UNICEF at Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
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The coronavirus pandemic could jeopardise vaccination campaigns in the Middle East and North Africa, Unicef warned on Sunday, saying millions of children could miss out on polio and measles immunisations.

Unicef said most countries in the region were continuing with routine campaigns, under strict controls to prevent the spread of the virus.

In April, the UAE rolled out drive-through vaccination centres to ensure children don’t miss out or have to attend hospitals that may already be handling coronavirus cases.

But the UN agency warned that vaccination campaigns in some countries had been suspended as health workers were diverted to fighting the Covid-19 illness.

"As a result, one in five children or 10 million children under the age of five risk missing their polio vaccination," it said in a statement.

"Nearly 4.5 million children under the age of 15 risk missing their measles vaccination."

Ted Chaiban, Unicef's regional director, said it was "absolutely critical that every child gets immunised against deadly diseases including polio, measles, diphtheria and hepatitis".

He said measures including disinfection, protective clothing and social distancing meant that "immunisation for children is possible even in the time of Covid".

Unicef and the World Health Organisation warned in mid-April that around 117 million children worldwide risked contracting measles as dozens of countries curtailed vaccination programmes to battle the pandemic.

The head of the global organisation fighting polio said in early April that the novel coronavirus had dealt an unprecedented blow to mass immunisation drives, risking a resurgence of the disease.

From the Middle East to the United States, Europe and wider Asia, people in many parts of the world are emerging from their homes as virus-related restrictions begin to ease and springtime temperatures climb.

But the global pandemic took a turn for the worse elsewhere. India on Sunday reported more than 2,600 new cases, its biggest single-day jump. That followed record increases in neighboring Pakistan and Russia the previous day.

China, which reported two new cases, saw a surge in visitors to tourist spots, many newly reopened, after a relaxation of domestic travel restrictions ahead of a five-day holiday that runs through Tuesday.